In today’s episode, we are continuing our doctrinal topics but taking a slight detour from our study of the nature of God to discuss the biblical holiday of Shavuot, also known as Weeks and sometimes Firstfruits. Why is this significant, and why should believers today understand the biblical calendar and the feast days?
Most Christians today do not recognize or celebrate the biblical feast days. This is due primarily to the fact that Christianity teaches that the sacrificial aspect of the rites conveyed in the Torah have been fulfilled in Messiah Yeshua. I agree one hundred percent. But “fulfilled” does not mean “done away with.” I believe the Bible teaches that in Messiah, that which was a physical requirement for ancient Israel has become a spiritual reality for all time; more on that later. But what I want to focus on first is how the biblical calendar is filled with symbolism of the Kingdom and God’s relationship with his people. I believe it is as we maintain recognition of these days that we can be reminded of God’s, and our, purpose. These days become practical object lessons that point to the totality of God’s work among his people, and his presence in this world.
The annual biblical calendar contains seven appointed times known in Hebrew as moedim, meaning seasons or appointed times. I believe the annual biblical holidays are the true appointments with God, the seasonal moedim that he has established for all eternity. They are centered around three central “feasts” or “festival gatherings:” Unleavened Bread, Weeks/Shavuot, and Tabernacles/Sukkot. These occur in the first, third, and seventh months of the annual biblical calendar.
Deuteronomy 16:16 – “All your males are to appear three times a year before Yahweh your God in the place he chooses: at the Festival of Unleavened Bread (first month), the Festival of Weeks (third month), and the Festival of Tabernacles (seventh month).”
Interestingly, these festival-gatherings follow the agrarian timelines of the early barley harvest (first month), the early wheat harvest (third month) and the ingathering of all of the remaining crops (seventh month). All of these festivals surround God’s provision for his people. These three annual gathering seasons focus on seven appointed times which are described as memorials or re-enactments to be used to keep God’s people focused on his will and purpose.
I also find it fascinating that God has placed these appointments on the annual calendar in a way that can still be recognized today, even though worldly calendars and methods of timekeeping have come and gone. I believe this is why they are described the way they are, and why we are still able to keep those appointments with him.
How are we to keep these appointments? Certainly we are not to sacrifice animals; as mentioned earlier all sacrifice has been fulfilled in Messiah. However, on these special days we can still gather together as his people to review the symbolism of those sacrifices to bring greater awareness to our understanding of our relationship with God. Whether it is through deeper fellowship and community among his people, as well as renewing our total devotion to him and consummation in his service, we can become serious about our faith by living it out as object lessons that others can see and learn from, as well. After all, as you may know from previous episodes, I believe that God’s Torah or Word is eternal, and therefore has lasting influence on those who approach the God of the Bible as his people. These should be as much a part of our doctrinal understanding as any other major proposition such as the study of who God is or the Kingdom of God.
I would like to discuss all of these biblical holidays throughout the course of the coming year, but as I record today’s podcast, we are in the season of Shavuot or Weeks, which was recently completed. It is the festival which follows Passover and Unleavened Bread by seven weeks, hence its immediate namesake in Hebrew. The day itself falls on the day following the conclusion of 49 days from the barley firstfruits. This was technically the 50th day and became known by its Greek title of Pentecost, meaning “fiftieth.”
Many Christians may recognize Pentecost as the day the holy Spirit came upon the disciples in a powerful way, allowing them to speak in different languages to the assembled Jews in Jerusalem, telling the Good News about the Kingdom of God. It is defined by many as “the birthday of the church,” but I believe that definition is not only a misnomer about its purpose, but a misunderstanding of the nature of the day itself.
To gain a better grasp of this holiday, we need to go back to its ancient Hebrew understanding as it is related in Torah.
Leviticus 23:16-21 – “You are to count fifty days until the day after the seventh Sabbath [that is, seven weeks after the barley firstfruits] and then present an offering of new grain to Yahweh. Bring two loaves of bread from your settlements as a presentation [wave] offering, each of them made from four quarts of fine flour, baked with yeast, as firstfruits to Yahweh. You are to present with the bread seven unblemished male lambs a year old, one young bull, and two rams. They will be a burnt offering to Yahweh, with their grain offerings and drink offerings, a fire offering of a pleasing aroma to Yahweh. You are also to prepare one male goat as a sin offering, and two male lambs a year old as a fellowship sacrifice. The priest will present the lambs with the bread of firstfruits as a presentation offering before Yahweh; the bread and the two lambs will be holy to Yahweh for the priest. On that same day you are to make a proclamation and hold a sacred assembly. You are not to do any daily work. This is to be a permanent statute wherever you live throughout your generations.”
Okay, so in this detailed passage we can learn several things. Shavuot was to be a special appointed day where no customary work was done, in which the people of God would gather and sacrifices and offerings were brought to the Temple. The primary offering of this day involves two loaves of bread as a grain offering of the firstfruits of the wheat harvest. Along with the loaves are included burnt offerings, drink offerings, sacrifices for sin and sacrifices for fellowship.
How do these ancient sacrifices and offerings apply to believers today? Even though we don’t bring actual sacrificial animals before Yahweh anymore, I believe these offerings were designed by Yahweh to represent real aspects of our spiritual lives, and I think it’s important that we continue to recognize these. So let’s take a look at what each of these different types of sacrifices means from a symbolic perspective:
- A burnt offering represents total consummation in God’s service.
- A sin offering represents that which is a substitute for us due to our disobedience to God’s torah.
- The trespass offering was offered for unintentional or unknown sin.
- A fellowship or peace offering represents thankfulness for God’s mercy and enjoyment of his relationship.
- The grain and drink offerings represent our gratitude for God’s provision as firstfruits of all he has provided us.
I think it becomes readily apparent how these emblematic sacrifices apply in the life of the modern believer. If we are to honor these appointed times throughout the year, I believe they should be memorialized in the spirit of these attributes.
There are many facets to the symbolism of the biblical moedim or appointed times, but one of the most glaring attributes relates to their numerical significance. As rich and enlightening as this can be to review, unfortunately, many people over the centuries have taken to a kind of numerology or study of biblical numbers which has become quite complex and frankly, unhelpful. Even the contemporary expression of Judaism has devised a whole system of numerology and mysticism known as Kabbalah, which is not at all what I am proposing here. I simply look for patterns in the Bible to see how they relate to and bring meaning to one another.
For example, the Bible outlines seven days in a week. Shavuot pertains to seven “sevens” of weeks. On the day of Shavuot, all of the sacrificial symbolism falls on the fiftieth day that occurs after the week of Passover and Unleavened Bread, both of which represent the miraculous rescue from the worldliness and slavery of Egypt.
Now it’s important to understand something here from a Hebraic perspective. In this worldly existence, seven is a number that represents this Creation. Why? Well, the weekly Sabbath was given to God’s people as a reminder that God is the Creator of all.
Exodus 20:8, 11 – Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy: … For Yahweh made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and everything in them in six days; then he rested on the seventh day. Therefore Yahweh blessed the Sabbath day and declared it holy.
In Hebraic understanding, the weekly Sabbath is the Sabbath of Creation. Everything in this Creation is governed by the limit of a cycle of seven. For example, a week is a cycle of seven days; there are seven appointed times throughout the year occurring within a seven-month time period. Even in the broader calendrical cycle of the Bible, every seventh year was to be a sabbatical year, a year of rest for the land.
Leviticus 25:1-4 – Yahweh spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai: “Speak to the Israelites and tell them: When you enter the land I am giving you, the land will observe a Sabbath to Yahweh. “You may sow your field for six years, and you may prune your vineyard and gather its produce for six years. “But there will be a Sabbath of complete rest for the land in the seventh year, a Sabbath to Yahweh: you are not to sow your field or prune your vineyard.
Additionally, after seven “sevens” of sabbath years, or forty-nine years, the Israelites were to set aside the fiftieth year as a “Jubilee,” a sort of re-set for all economic activity, freedom for all slaves, and a realignment of all of the tribes with their heritage.
Leviticus 25:8-10 – “You are to count seven sabbatical years, seven times seven years, so that the time period of the seven sabbatical years amounts to forty-nine. Then you are to sound a trumpet loudly in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month; you will sound it throughout your land on the Day of Atonement. You are to consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim freedom in the land for all its inhabitants. It will be your Jubilee, when each of you is to return to his property and each of you to his clan.”
Through these we can see how the Bible relates sevens of days, sevens of weeks, sevens of months and sevens of years, but the fiftieth is something special, something that points to realities beyond these sevens of this world.
I found this editorial comment in the Voice version of the Bible, relating the nature of the Jubilee in Leviticus 25:
“The year of jubilee is a far-reaching idea in the ancient world. In the 50th year, land that has been sold to pay debts during the preceding 49 years returns to its original owners. Israelites who had to sell themselves into slavery to pay debts are set free. All debts are declared “paid in full.” The jubilee is a regular reminder to God’s covenant people that every acre of ground, every soul belongs to God, not to those rich enough to buy them.”
So, the timing of the annual festival of Shavuot also has great significance mirroring that of the sabbatical years and the year of Jubilee which focuses on the centrality of Yahweh as Creator and Owner of all that exists. Shavuot, also being based on this principle of fifty, is a fulfillment of seven weeks (seven “sevens” of days) and then takes place on “the day after the seventh sabbath,” the fiftieth day. The remembrance, this regular reminder every year of the Exodus events on this fiftieth day represents a re-set, a new beginning, freedom from captivity and a restoration of all things to the God of the universe. In a spiritual sense, it points to realities beyond this Creation, to eternal principles that exist outside of the sevens of this world. To my way of thinking, this is a perfect illustration of what occurred on that very famous Restoration Shavuot two thousand years ago.
Let’s take a closer look at that famous Restoration Shavuot or Day of Pentecost in which the holy Spirit came upon the disciples in a powerful way, allowing them to speak in different languages to the assembled Jews in Jerusalem, telling the Good News about the Kingdom of God. I said a few moments ago that this event is defined by many as “the birthday of the church,” and that I believe that this definition is not only a misnomer about its purpose, but a misunderstanding of the nature of the day itself.
You see, to say that is the birthday of the church is to imply that the “church” never existed prior to that time. What many call the “church” today (universally speaking) is called the ekklesia in Greek terminology, and it simply means “a called out assembly.” But the ekklesia was not “born” on that day, it had existed since the times of Moses. This is revealed in the speech of Stephen in his defense before the Sanhedrin.
Acts 7:38 – “He [Moses] is the one who was in the assembly in the wilderness, with the angel who spoke to him on Mount Sinai, and with our ancestors. He received living oracles to give to us.”
If you check your King James or American Standard Versions of the Bible, you may notice that this verse here says that it was the “church in the wilderness” who received the living oracles. The translators were simply using the Greek word in a consistent fashion. But this highlights the point: if there was an assembly, something which could be called the church which was present in the wilderness with Moses, how could it have been “born” on Pentecost in the early part of the first century? I believe it can be shown that the ekklesia, the called out assembly, was always present in those through whom God was working at any given time in the biblical narrative.
For us to approximate a Hebraic understanding of this, it can be said that there has always been a faithful remnant among God’s people, even when the nation as a whole was steeped in idolatry and wickedness. For example, when Jerusalem was being attacked by Sennacherib’s Syrian army, Isaiah the prophet revealed how God would protect them:
2 Kings 19:30-31 – “The surviving remnant of the house of Judah will again take root downward and bear fruit upward. “For a remnant will go out from Jerusalem, and survivors, from Mount Zion. The zeal of Yahweh of Armies will accomplish this.”
When returning from captivity in Babylon with only the few thousand faithful who desired to reestablish the Temple, Ezra prayed the following prayer:
Ezra 9:8 – But now, for a brief moment, grace has come from Yahweh our God to preserve a remnant for us and give us a stake in his holy place. Even in our slavery, God has given us a little relief and light to our eyes.
Even the apostle Paul, in teaching about the faithful among God’s people in that day, illustrates this idea of the remnant with the story of Elijah:
Romans 11:2-5 – God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. Or don’t you know what the Scripture says in the passage about Elijah – how he pleads with God against Israel? Lord, they have killed your prophets and torn down your altars. I am the only one left, and they are trying to take my life! But what was God’s answer to him? I have left seven thousand for myself who have not bowed down to Baal. In the same way, then, there is also at the present time a remnant chosen by grace.
This “remnant” of God’s people was the assembly at each point in Israel’s history, sometimes even down to one person and their family, such as a Noah or an Abraham, or a Jacob. God’s purpose has always been based on the assembly of those who are faithful to him, so the ekklesia throughout the ages has been comprised of those who feared and served Yahweh.
So to carry this mental understanding into the events of the first century day of Pentecost, we can see that same principle applying there: a faithful remnant, the disciples, faithful to the principles of the Kingdom which Messiah had taught them, were given miraculous abilities by the Spirit of God to testify to the truth of the gospel of the Kingdom to the rest of the Jews who had come from all over the world. This faithful remnant was not “born” on that day, but, in alignment with the Jubilee symbolism of the day of Shavuot, they were the ones proclaiming the eternal re-set, freedom from captivity to sin, and a restoration of all things through the Kingdom of God. In a sense, this was the ultimate Jubilee.
Just as the original ekklesia was comprised of those who were assembled at Sinai and heard Yahweh speak the Ten Commandments of his Kingdom which were written in stone, the renewed ekklesia on that famous Day of Pentecost proclaimed the principles of God’s Kingdom which were to be written on their hearts.
The connection between these events is further established when it can be shown that, at the receiving of the Ten Commandments, due to their rebelliousness and idolatry, three thousand people were killed.
Exodus 32:28 – The Levites did as Moses commanded, and about three thousand men fell dead that day among the people.
However, at the Restoration Pentecost, due to their obedience, three thousand people were added to the ekklesia.
Acts 2:41 – So those who accepted [Peter’s] message were baptized, and that day about three thousand people were added to them.
As another example, the big picture of the Bible story can be described in a similar type of parallelism. God established a physical Kingdom when he revealed his Ten Commandments to his assembled people at Mount Sinai. Those commandments were written in stone by his own finger. In the first century, God established an eternal, spiritual Kingdom when, through his Messiah, he revealed those principles to the to the assembled people listening to the Sermon on the Mount. These were spiritually based on the same commandments, but now they were to be written on the heart by God’s own finger, no longer in stone. These types of parallels and symbolisms are all through the Bible.
The apostle Paul, in the context of speaking about the comparison and contrast of Adam and Yeshua, states a principle that I believe carries over into a well-ordered understanding of the Bible.
1 Corinthians 15:46 – But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual.
In the Bible, the natural things, people, and events were real things that happened to real people, just like those who heard the commandments at Mount Sinai, or those who heard Messiah preach his Sermon on the Mount. But I believe we are to look to those things as types, shadows, and examples of the spiritual realities that have become evident through the restoration of all things in Messiah Yeshua. The prophesied remnant was that first-century assembly, but with all things consummated by the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD, believers from that point on up until today are simply members of God’s eternal, universal Kingdom. Since the age of natural Israel ended at that time, there is no longer a “remnant” ekklesia or assembly; it had been fulfilled in that generation in that time.
When Paul illustrated his teaching with stories from Israel’s wilderness journeys, he also emphasizes the purpose of learning and re-telling these stories.
1 Corinthians 10:11 – Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.
That first century ekklesia or assembly of Messiah believers in the natural world was to become the touchstone for all future generations of believers as spiritual descendants. The ancient biblical ages, the ages of Abraham, Moses, and of natural Israel, were coming to a consummation in the soon destruction of the city in 70 AD. Beyond that event, the spiritual principles of the Bible would be cast forward into the future, lighting the way for all future generations of believers as the eternal Kingdom of God would continue to spread throughout the world.
So I believe that Shavuot has not been done away, nor have any of the other biblical holidays, but I believe they have been renewed and elevated in this great spiritual restoration accomplished by Messiah. Paul writes how even believers were to view themselves as having been completely renewed within their faith in Messiah.
2 Corinthians 5:17 – Therefore, if anyone is in Messiah, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
In Messiah, all things are new now, not just in the future!
So as we view this seasonal moed or appointed time of Shavuot, we can catch a glimpse of its renewed nature and purpose in the symbolism of its biblical parameters. That first-century restoration Pentecost was the fulfillment of the Jubilee symbolism, the fifty beyond the sevens and forty-nines of this world, declaring the eternal nature of the Kingdom of God. Just as Yeshua taught, this was to be a Kingdom based on the structure of the Ten Commandments, as both a near and present reality, a realm where vigilance would be required of those who sought to participate. These believers would be set apart and holy, trusting God for all of their needs, just as he did, and they would operate with God’s characteristics of forgiveness and compassion, demonstrating that they are the children of God.
Well, I hope this brief introduction to the biblical holidays and the restoration Shavuot or Pentecost brought you some concepts and ideas to meditate on and to study out further on your own. But remember, there is also a Core of the Bible virtual Bible study group that is hosted through the Marco Polo video chat app. It is designed to discuss the topics that we cover each week and to help people with responses to questions that may come up. If you are interested in joining the discussion, simply download the free Marco Polo app and email me a request to join the group at firstname.lastname@example.org. I will be happy to send you a link to join the virtual Bible study group. You can also feel free to email me any of your thoughts or comments at that email, as well.